Friday, July 30, 2010

Today's Word: deluge

deluge: The sudden appearance of a large amount of (literally) water or (metaphorically) other substance that one could literally or figuratively drown in, as in this true statement: "Over the last two weeks, the deluge of projects vying for my time has left me little opportunity to blog." Capitalized, Deluge refers the biblical Great Flood made famous by that fundamentalist rock band Noah & the Arkonauts.

Not to be confused with . . .

de luge: De vinter spoort vit de feet firsten on de sleddie und zoomen en swoopen doon de eecy treench. (from Scooter's English-to-Swedish Chef Dictionary*)

Answer me this: How do you pronounce deluge? Is it a DAY-loojh, a duh-LOOJH, a duh-LOO-gee, or something else?

* As far as I know, this book doesn't really exist. If it did, though, I'd want one on my bookshelf. At work.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Today's Word: internecine

internecine: Marked by slaughter, especially mutually destructive slaughter; battle within a group.

According to the interesting word history in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Deluxe Edition, the "mutually destructive" sense of internecine came about because Samuel Johnson misinterpreted the word's etymology when he put together his dictionary. Inter- usually indicates "between" (e.g., intermural, interstate, interlibrary loan). In this case, though, inter- indicated the completion of an action.

To quote directly: "In Latin, the verb necare meant 'to kill' and the verb internecare meant 'to kill without exception, to massacre.'" (p. 964)

Johnson, though, put "to kill" together with "between" and came up with mutually destructive violence.  His definition was preferred, though, by many. These days, internecine is more often used hyperbolically, meaning a pitched (though often bloodless) battle between two factions of a single group.

The clash of Tea Party Republicans and rational Republicans might be seen as an internecine battle, for example.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Today's Word: parallelepiped

parallelepiped: (pronounce the last -ed as a separate syllable) A three-dimensional shape made up of six parallelograms lying in three pairs of planes. Imagine taking a regular, six-sided die and pulling it from opposite corners. The result would look something like this:

This is a parallelepiped.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Today's Word: flibbertigibbet

flibbertigibbet: A silly, flaky, or daft person; a chowderhead; Larry the Cable Guy

I had always assumed the flibbertigibbet was a relatively new coinage, but Merriam-Webster's Collegiate traces it back to a 15th-century Middle English word (flepergebet). A little more research shows that, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Flibbertigibbet was used as a fictional name.

According to Google Books, one 1789 publication called Political Adoration, or, An Address to the Devil, is attributed to "the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet." Flibbertigibbet also appears in Sir Walter Scott's The Waverly Novels as the nickname for one Dickie Sludge. I don't know which is the worse name to have.

Here's an excerpt:

I was a fool to mention the doctor's kind intentions towards my mansion before that limb of mischief Flibbertigibbet — I might have guessed he would long to put so rare a frolic into execution.

On a side note, M-W Collegiate also lists the adjective form flibbertigibbety, which is even more fun to say!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


spectaculavaganza = spectacular + extravaganza

Spotted in the wild here: "Last night, during the one-hour LeBron James Spectaculavaganza on ESPN, James was shown video of his jersey being burned by Cleveland fans . . ."

There's also a proofreading error in the picture's caption, if they haven't fixed it yet. See if you can find it.

Today's Word: prehensile

prehensile: Adapted or designed with the ability to grasp things, especially by wrapping or folding around the object.

The strange thing about prehensile is that it isn't obvious, at first glance, how the common prefix pre- fits into the etymology and meaning of the word. As it turns out, a second glance doesn't help either. According to Webster's New World, it comes from a combination of pre- plus the "unverified form" of the Indo-European ghend. (The word get has the same ancestor.)

Perhaps a wandering linguist or lexicographer can explain what is meant by "unverified form." Or maybe someday I'll peruse the guide at the beginning of the dictionary and discover some clues there.

Just remember that prehensile is related to apprehend and its ilk and you'll have no problems.

Incidentally, I have watched exactly one episode of the Dean Cain version of Ripley's Believe It or Not — I was an avid fan of the Jack Palance version back in the day — and that one episode highlighted a man with basically a giraffe tongue. Seriously, the guy could lick his own eyebrow! His long tongue was very nearly prehensile. It was disgusting, but I was transfixed.